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The Little Foxes

a Drama
by Lillian Hellman

COMPANY : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
ID# 3971

SHOWING : March 09, 2011 - April 10, 2011



A modern classic about greed and deception. Two scheming brothers and their wickedly clever and conniving sister, Regina, plot to get control of her husband's wealth. Family entanglements, personal betrayals and one of literature’s most captivating Southern women, played by Jessica Phelps West. Recommended for age 14 and up.

Director Fred Chappell
Addie Donna Biscoe
Alexandra Giddens Rebecca Galen Crawley
Leo Hubbard Jeff Edgerton
Benjamin Hubbard Clayton Landey
Birdie Hubbard Mary Lynn Owen
Horace Giddens Ric Reitz
William Marshall Frank Roberts
Oscar Hubbard Peter Thomasson
Regina Giddens Jessica Phelps West
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Family Values
by Dedalus
Saturday, April 16, 2011
“Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines:
for our vines have tender grapes”

-- Song of Solomon

Welcome to the south of 1900, a land of boundless economic growth and traditional family values. Of course, these values include marriage as a business investment, scratch-and-claw methods of social climbing, and blackmail as an integral part of family “game night.”

Lillian Hellman wrote “The Little Foxes” in 1939 both as a reaction to her own southern roots and as a comment on the devious business practices responsible for the depression. In it, the Hubbard family is planning on boosting its economic footprint by teaming with a Chicago businessman to build a mill close to its own cotton fields. They need the help of their sister’s husband to raise the necessary capital. However, sister Regina is carrying a lot of resentment and won’t be content with a meager third of the anticipated millions in profits.

What follows is torturous trek into a darkness of scheming and thieving and blackmail, from which only the strongest will remain standing. What chance does the “tenderest grape” of the family, daughter Alexandra, have in this den of foxes?

Make no mistake, Ms. Hellman created a classic portrait of the Southern mercantile mind, a culture that can blithely discard its aristocratic past at the same time it embraces the new “n%$%r class” as a source of cheap labor. It’s a very small step from slavery to the sorts of blatantly commercial marriages on display here – it’s a society in which human capital is bought and sold on a daily basis, in which the traditional “bosom of the family” is laced with venom, in which love and affection are alien (probably subversive) ideas, and in which escape is the only viable course of survival.

Somehow, I’ve managed to miss any productions of this play (even the 1941 Bette Davis movie version), so I went into this production with a sense of openness. There’s something about seeing a classic play for the first time that fills me with profound expectation, a promise of greatness to unfold before me as it unfolded to first-time viewers decades ago. I’ve long been a fan of Ms. Hellman’s other work, so this experience was an anticipation far and above my standard I-like-everything theatre geekiness.

And I wasn’t disappointed. Jessica Phelps West sinks her teeth into Regina with a relish that borders on ecstasy. Yes, she is cold to her family and daughter, but she puts on such a well-practiced, well-mannered public face that she comes across like one of those aliens on “V” – welcomely charming on the surface, but cold and reptilian to the core. I loved how she was alternately gracious and vicious, even to those who knew her best. It’s a tour-de-force performance, just as it should be.

I was also impressed by Ric Reitz as her husband Horace. Here is another character who can be described as a “tender grape,” a kind and gentle man who abhors his in-laws’ exploitation of the town’s poorer folks. Suffering from an acute heart ailment, he has escaped to Baltimore for extended treatment, but must return “home” to deal with the current business “crisis” (not so much a crisis as a “done deal” complicated by the Hubbard siblings inability to get along). Mr. Reitz makes Horace such a contrast that the others’ shortcomings are thrown into stark reveal.

And Mary Lynn Owen does her usual wonderful job as Birdie, the faded former aristocrat married to Oscar Hubbard. Married for her family’s cotton fields, she now lives a life of quiet desperation, a bit flighty and alcoholic, but constantly on eggshells to avoid the scolding tongue (and quick back-hand) of her husband.

The others in the cast build a strong ensemble, creating memorable characters (both “grapes” and “foxes”) that propel the story and paint a damning portrait of the “newly rich” southern mercantile class. Peter Thomasson and Clayton Landrey are the Hubbard brothers, cruel in their separate ways. Jeff Edgerton and Galen Crawley are the next generation, Leo and Alexandra, one gamely following in the family footsteps, the other seeking the promise of escape. Donna Biscoe is the family servant (loyal to Horace, quietly subservient to Regina), and Frank Roberts is the visitor from Chicago, the investor who can’t get enough of the Hubbard potential for profit, but can’t get away from them quickly enough.

Costume designer Alan Yeong is the “unsung” star of this production. He has created a series of turn-of-the-century gowns that are breathtakingly beautiful (for Regina) and somewhat ridiculous (for Birdie). It’s a design that says as much about his research into the period as it does bout his ability to clothe characters in ways that are revealing.

“The Little Foxes” is a production that does justice to a classic of the American stage, that highlights how plot can be used to reveal character and character to propel plot. It is also a production that showcases an actress and a costumer at the peak of their abilities, doing work that will be remembered for a long time to come.

There has been much written about how the play leaves Regina triumphant, but alone at the end. Somehow, Ms. Phelps made me believe that this was the best of all possible endings for her. She joyfully pays a price most of us would shudder to even contemplate. It’s a case of perverse family values indeed defining the society that they seek to control.

-- Brad Rudy (BK

Birdie, Vixen, Reynards, and Kits
by playgoer
Monday, March 14, 2011
In the cast of Marietta Theatre in the Square's "The Little Foxes," it's easy to tell the seven Actor's Equity members from the two non-Equity actors. The Actor's Equity members are all fantastic. The non-Equity actors are merely very good.

This is a terrifically acted production of Lillian Hellman's tale of the grasping, greedy Hubbard family in a Southern town somewhere near Mobile, Alabama. It was written as a three-act play, but the production at Theatre in the Square combines the first two acts before allowing an intermission. That's probably not a good choice. The second scene starts a little slowly, and it's a long stretch to the end of it. The ushers were busy before the show warning audience members that they needed to take care of business before being seated. That's an admission of sorts from the theatre that the first act is overly long.

Jessica Phelps West plays the lead role of Regina with deft power and charm. She's a monster, but she carrries her claws sheathed, a lurking lioness ready to leap on her prey without mercy. Clayton Landey plays her brother Ben with equally subtle ferocity. Peter Thomasson plays the third sibling, Oscar, as a weak and ineffectual man who has learned the lessons of ferocity all too well. Jeff Edgerton, as Oscar's son Leo, shows the timidity and dissolution of a brow-beaten minor player who, like his father, will soon learn to lash out at those who he can intimidate. Mary Lynn Owen, as Leo's mother and Oscar's wife, keeps the flightiness of Birdie under control, but cannot help from getting the audience's sympathy as the uncontested victim of the Hubbard family's cruelty.

Donna Biscoe plays servant Addie with backbone and/or deference, depending on what sort of person she's addressing. She's as fierce as her masters, but uses that fierceness to protect the weaker elements in the household: Birdie; Regina's terminally ill husband, Horace (played affectingly by Ric Reitz); and Regina's and Horace's daughter, Alexandra (played by Galen Crawley). At the end, we're supposed to see a glimpse in Alexandra of her mother, but there's not enough of a physical or vocal resemblance to make the moment really resonate. Neither mother nor daughter is quite pretty enough in a conventional sense to support the smitten reaction of Northerner William Marshall (played by Frank Roberts without enough charm or bluster).

The set is attractive on first glance, with Victorian charm and lots of cherrywood accents. I didn't care, though, for how the cherry-red wallpaper and plummy red accents of the oriental rug clashed with each other and with the woodwork. I was also befuddled by the placement of the outside door in a nook beside the staircase. It didn't appear grand enough to be the front door, yet all entrances and exits were through it. I should think that there would have been a little confusion on Mr. Marshall's part if being asked to leave by a secondary door, but a simple glance or gesture could have explained that "transportation is this way." And I guess the set could be interpreted as a red fox den, with the entrance unobtrusive, as in nature.

"The Little Foxes" is an engrossing play, even if you're familiar with the story. Theatre in the Square's production does it justice, and perhaps a bit more. The feral Hubbards, leaping to grasp the low-hanging grapes on the vine of Northern textile money, are alive and well and scheming in Marietta. See and enjoy. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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